The writer/director unwraps her new film, The Future, and her first non-fiction book, 'It Chooses You'.
Miranda July creates things that linger with you. Her movies, books, performances and art pieces are imbued with the kind of surreal messages and motifs that creep up on you, long after the moment of encounter, to reveal their strange significance.
It's this retrospective quality, in fact, that often makes July's creations difficult to first grasp. And her new movie The Future is no exception. She may have won the Camera d'Or in 2005 for her directorial debut Me and You and Everyone We Know, but July's latest offering dances in a whole new kind of darkness. Talking cats and moons, crawling shirts, wonky Escher prints and recurring hippos are just some of the anomalies that dot the suburban landscape in this 90-minute study of love, life and failed expectations.
This month, July releases her first non-fiction book 'It Chooses You' about the creative process behind the film. In it she visits sellers from the PennySaver newspaper in LA and interviews them about their hopes, dreams and ambitions. It's a moving portrait of people left on the outside – just like her enchanting film.
LWLies: The Future is like a museum of found objects, forgotten treasures and talismans; do you collect things yourself?
July: Yeah I do. I have to force myself not to collect more. I go to state sales – after someone dies, I don't know if you have them here? – and that can be a little bit of a vice. In terms of actual collections; I have a lot of collars, from all different eras. I have all my journals since I was seven – there's a couple of hundred – and I always think I'd save them first in a fire. But I think my only actual collection is errata, which is not erotica. You get an errata [sheet] when a publisher forgets to print something in a book and they have to add a little slip of paper that says like, 'On page 24 this should have said...' It's kind of rare. And you can't actually collect them – they just fall out by chance. So over 15 years, I maybe have, nine. You have to be really patient. Oh I should mention also my security-blanket t-shirt, which 'shirty' [from the film] is based on. That's a very significant object to me.
Why are objects significant to you?
I especially like objects because often in my life I'm sort of reaching for things that are really esoteric and mysterious, but I don't want them to be. I don't want them to be difficult or hard to understand and objects are so kind of funny and familiar, and they make a sound when you drop them! So if I can somehow tie feelings and things that are possibly easy to dismiss to objects, then it's like maybe they could take up space in the world. Or exist in a movie, or a book. So I think I do end up using objects as a way to carry more weight. And then obviously in The Future I got quite literal with that sometimes.
In the book 'It Chooses You', which documents the creative process behind The Future, you're told about a woman who takes a photo of herself everyday until she dies. The albums end up in the dumpster and you say, 'It was immediately one of my favourite works of art.' Is there a conflict between your interest in private art and shared art?
Sometimes I think my art really started with the presents I made for my friends, y'know? And I picture that may be true for all young women. The really way-too-elaborate cards that, when you ended up giving them, no reaction could have been big enough! That, and decorating my room. I used to handpaint wallpaper – individual stripes on the wall – and I would really go for it. And I think there was a point where I kind of realised; if I put all this energy into my 'work' then probably I could get somewhere. I kind of thought that's what I should probably do. I imagine it maybe shifts again when you have a kid, and maybe there's another world of more private art. But ultimately, I don't think it really matters. It's whatever makes you happy. And I had to find a way to do this as a job.
Your work shows such fascination with the quixotic details of human life, but of all the characters you meet in your preparation for the The Future, there is one (Ron) that you said you "didn't want to understand". Why was that?
I was thinking about this the other day. Everyone wanted to leave his place way before I allowed us to leave and I think my impulse, and you can sort of see it in the interview, was to get him and push past everything that seemed scary about him. And I think it was the point that I began to doubt that in myself and kind of wonder, 'Is it almost because he's clearly messed up, maybe not even a very good person (he may have done some bad things that I would not be comfortable with), that I'm going the extra step with him?' There was something going on there that I can't even fully explain, that I didn't trust in myself, y'know? Without making a total judgment on him. I mean I only met him once.
Those interviews are so honest. Were you afraid to publish them?
Actually with Ron in particular I have had some paranoid thoughts and I've thought, 'God I wish he was still under house arrest!' [Laughs] but I think for the most part I have a warm feeling for people and hopefully that comes through. There is part of me that has thought about sending them all a copy but I don't know. It's like Joe [the old neighbour from The Future]. Joe totally wanted to be in the movie but frankly he didn't care that much about the movie. I'm the one who was like, 'Oh no he didn't see it before he died.' But he wasn't that interested in the parts that he wasn't in.
And what about you? Are you worried about revealing parts of yourself in the movie?
Well, I know The Future is a fiction, but I feel nervous because I know that no one's going to believe that. So it makes me nervous, but I feel protected by the fact that if anyone looks at my life, they can actually see that it's a different life. That book is actually the first non-fiction thing that I've put out. I don't know that anyone will even notice, but to me it's really clear. I keep thinking about the first page – there's this reference to the penis size of an ex-boyfriend and that, in a way, is the raciest thing in the whole book. And I think I was semi-conscious of like, 'What would make me want to keep reading?' And I'm kind of pretty low-level, y'know?! If the first pages are somehow scandalous, I'll usually read on. I think that as long as people read past the first page it'll all be okay.
So is it important for you to always put yourself outside of your comfort zone?
I guess it must be. I don't enjoy it really at the time. I'm not even uncomplaining. I complained a lot the whole time! I'm sort of actively doubting myself the whole time. But, that said, I think I'm just attracted to the challenge and I sort of feel that, 'Well at least if I fail, it will have been a very worthy task.' And there's some sort of security in that.
Do you hope this movie will inspire other female filmmakers?
Yeah, I think with this movie especially I thought a lot about other women and kind of felt like, at the very least, I hope that some women can connect with it. Because I felt that there were some parts that I hadn't really seen before in any movies and that they were really female. In fact, I didn't think men would get them. But that was ok with me. I thought that was worthwhile.